We are all familiar with the popular saying: “Sungu no better than Lungu.”It is often said in a negative context with an air of exasperation at the poor choices facing someone. For example, thisbusiness entity or thatbusiness entity, they are all the same, delivering poor service and charging exorbitant fees. Think, “Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.” It is a false choice, a Faustian bargain reminiscent of the old Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) slogan from the 70’s: “This party, that party, same pappy show!”
Interestingly, contrary to the conventional wisdom that they are all the same, we are discovering that Sungu is betterthanLungu.We are referring to remarks by our Prime Minister (PM), the Honourable Gaston Browne, during his nationally televised Town Hall appearance this past Sunday. But before we get to how “Sungu is better than Lungu,”let us recap the PM’s much-anticipated address to the nation. Mind you, this was supposed to be a sort of defining address, his magnum opus.This was supposed to be something similar to the address given by Sir Winston Churchill to the British people during World War II. We’re talking about Churchill’s, WE SHALL FIGHT THEM ON THE BEACHESspeech: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches,we shall fight on the landing grounds,we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,we shall fight in the hills . . .” It was extraordinary leadership in extraordinary times!
Closer to home, we here in Antigua and Barbuda have watched as the PM of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, the PM of St. Kitts Nevis, Dr. Timothy Harris and the PM of Barbados, Mia Mottley, and others, have risen in stature and distinguished themselves with comprehensive, compassionate stimulus packages that put “People First.”And speaking of putting people first, the Opposition United Progressive Party, to its credit, very early in this crisis, put forward a thoughtful and practical stimulus plan that was true to its motto, “People First.” (Our PM has recently taken to using the “People First”mantra, especially when justifying his haste to reopen the economy and lessen hardship).
Anyway, in light of the rousing words of reassurance and resolute measures from the aforementioned leaders, the citizenry here looked forward to our PM’s address with GREAT EXPECTATIONS!We were looking forward to a rallying speech with a basket of visionary initiatives. After all, with the ad hocmanner in which the Covid-19 response seemed to have been going thus far, we really did not want to leave our fate to plain luck – a blind stroke, as they say in cricket; that is, a stroke where the batsman closes his eyes and swings his bat, hoping for the best.
Remember, the members of this administration are the brightest guys and gals in the room. They claimed to have the answers to all that ailed us. They campaigned on fixing this and that, and building this and that inxand ynumber of days. Indeed, they won two elections on the strength of their specious promises. And the true believers and the card-carrying party faithful extolled the leader as the “Worl Boss.”Others called him “Moses.”And still others ascribed unto him messianic virtues. Indeed, he anointed himself as the “Top Dawg,” and the faithful said “Yea and amen!”
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, theWorl Bossexcoriated financial institutions and First World countries for their unfairness to small countries such as ours. He was careful to remind them that we are in straightened financial circumstances through no fault of our own. He waxed eloquent about climate change, debt forgiveness, concessionary financing terms, onerous correspondent banking relationships and the tough finance regulatory regime. He was lauded as the “Global Scold.” So, as you can imagine, hundreds of Antiguans and Barbudans cozied up to their preferred news source to hear the gospel of Covid-19 management and a recovery plan according to the “Worl Boss.”Think, Gastonomics!
Alas . . . well . . . let’s just say that many Antiguans and Barbudans were . . . underwhelmed. Many were expecting a WE GOT THIS-type of speech in the mould of the Barbados administration, but instead, we were treated to a warmed-over recitation of the same things that we’d been hearing everywhere for the last six-plus weeks – wear masks, social distancing, personal responsibility, rough times ahead; we could end-up in a $500 million hole; we will retrench workers only as a last resort; Covid seems to have stabilised, so we will be ending the State of Emergency in two weeks, and so on and so forth. Sigh! Nothing about the Cuban brigade. Nothing about our heroic first responders and other essential workers for Labour Day. Nothing about the much-heralded Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) and its first meeting. No mention of how the work of the ERC would be reconciled with the three-point recovery plan that Minister Weston says they already have in place. No mention of the stay-in-your-guest-room hotel tourism plan, which we discovered by way of THE MIAMI HERALD.
Interestingly, there were two jaw-dropping moments in the Town Hall event that was remarkable for its unremarkableness.The first was when the good PM said, in a Freudian slip of sorts, that we have the best social programmes in the region. Well, hallelujah! We can thank the United Progressive Party and its PEOPLE FIRST policies for those terrific social programmes.
The second faux pas was when the PM, he who has often positioned himself as a populist on the side of the poor, working stiffs, did a stunning about face and ‘cried long water’for (gasp!) the local banks. The same banks that the good PM had railed against in the past; the same banks that he harangued for making so much profit and repatriating them overseas; the same banks that he said should be good corporate citizens and give the people of Antigua and Barbuda the right of first refusal, and so on and so forth. Seems, his heart is now bleeding for them. (Scratch head)
Yes, in response to a question about banks waiving interest on loans, as was suggested by Pearl Quinn-Williams in a critically acclaimed DAILY OBSERVERguest editorial piece entitled, HAVE A HEART! WAIVE THE INTEREST! [April 28th, 2020], our PM said absolutely not. He said that the local banks could suffer financial ruination and collapse, and he dismissed the suggestion as something that sounded good to the working stiffs, but was nothing more than political games.Whoa! But wait a minute! Is this not the same administration that, on the one hand, is begging the greedy grasping Bretton Woods banks, aka Lungu,for waivers, and debt relief, and concessionary terms for poor struggling hard-hit economies such as ours, while on the other, it is telling the greedy grasping local banks here in Antigua, aka Sungu,not to waive the interest on loans for poor struggling hard-hit Antiguans and Barbudans such as you and I? Seems, Sungu (the local banking industry)is more deserving to eke every red cent out of the people than Lungu (the international banks)!